The Joy of traveling light

Can you travel to far-away destinations around the world with just 16 pounds of clothes? That’s something I’m going to explore, as the pack pictured below is my “international” setup.  While I tinker with my travel camera setup, I’m also going to refine everything else I use when traveling.  What you see below is everything I took for a month-long trip in South America, minus a small sling pack with camera gear.  Preparation was nerve-racking as I usually take more than this for a few days; I’m a classic over-packer.  This was also my first time outside of the U.S.  I don’t really consider Canada foreign – outside of the bland food and goofy accents.  Most of the shirts, all the socks and my insulating layer are made out of merino wool – it keeps you warm, its naturally wicking so it moves sweat, unlike cotton it insulates when wet, it dries quickly and its naturally odor-resistent.  All that comes at a price, t-shirts made out of merino can easily run $50-75 each.  But it packs small, its comfortable, its really light and you don’t have to do laundry as often as you would with cotton.

This is everything I took for a month in South America

This is everything I took for a month in South America

Here’s a rundown of everything pictured:
Gregory backpack – technically considered a daypack, 3 pounds, well padded/ventilated back, very easy to carry
REI green waterproof shell – came in handy a few times in total downpours
Ibex LS merino wool insulating layer – lightweight, warm, anti-stink
REI travel pants – can be converted to shorts, stink and water resistant
Exofficio underwear – great for travel, dries fast
Smartwool socks – again merino wool gets the job done
Smartwool and Ibex shirts – merino wool long and short sleeve T’s and button-ups, easily layered/removed for changing conditions
Teva sandals – my walk around shoe
Oboz hiking shoes – what I wore anytime off pavement
That’s it, crazy eh?

It all adds up to less than 15 pounds. For toiletries I just carried a toothbrush, razor, chapstick, lotion, toothpaste and some camp soap in a one-quart plastic bag.  We used/swiped soap everywhere we stayed and did laundry in the shower.   I shaved with soap too – ouch – but I didn’t want to waste space or add weight with a can of shave gel.  We had a small medical kit that my wife Caitlin carried, since I had the camera, and that was pretty much it. Packing/unpacking was never a chore because we had so little. It was easy to move about and get in and out of airports/boats/taxis/trains/busses quickly.

Posing for a shot while motoring between islands in the Galapagos

Posing for a shot while motoring between islands in the Galapagos

So what will we do different next time we go international? I felt like I really stuck out when we went out in the evenings – you just look like such a tourist when you’re the only one in a nice restaurant wearing nylon pants and hiking shoes.  Locals were in jeans and shirts and we’re sporting full on trekker gear.  At 6’2″ I stick out even more than most as I seem to be taller than most of the people we were around. I’ll be bringing a pair of jeans and a couple cotton T’s or polo’s – just to be a little more casual when we’re out at night.  Though most of the time the travel duds were fine.

Feel free to comment if you have suggestions on gear that can improve upon what I already have, I’m always on the lookout for how I can tweak things.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris

Sony Nex-7 vs. Olympus OM-D EM-5 vs. Fuji Xpro1 vs. Sony Nex 5n … An Interweb Mirrorless Shootout — Part 1

Meet the Contenders…

When I set out to find the ultimate small camera setup, I knew I would be looking at a camera with many names –  mirrorless (a camera that combines the large sensor of a DSLR without a mirror box and an optical viewfinder), interchangable lens camera (ILC, or MILC if you combine the last two), compact system camera (CSC), or my personal favorite – the electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens (EVIL) camera. You will see all these terms associated with the same class of camera.  Its a simple formula – big sensor, smaller lenses and bodies, and great IQ.  I want something that’s comfortable to shoot with everyday (if you don’t enjoy shooting with it, you’ll never actually use it), has great lenses (or works well with adapted manual focus lenses), shoots great stills and shoots video that will look good on the web and on TV’s in the 42-60” range since that’s what most seem to have these days (I have a 42). That’s not too much to ask, is it?

When the mirror is axed from a DSLR, the size can be drastically reduced, but that introduces a problem – the mirror creates the viewfinder image in a DSLR by reflecting light into a pentaprism (the hump with the viewfinder that you look through when shooting).  So a mirrorless camera needs an electronic viewfinder (EVF) in order to shoot like a traditional camera. I’ve used DSLR’s for years and I’ve grown accustomed to shooting while looking through the viewfinder – not holding it at arms length like a poop filled diaper… or a camera phone… pick your favorite analogy. So for me a viewfinder is a must. The EVF also needs to have a fast refresh rate, I had a Fuji X100 and the EVF went dark for a couple seconds after shooting while I waited for the hamster inside to get the wheel moving. So. Lame. EVF lag = return the camera before your 30-day return window closes.

Top view of the Sony Nex7 and its Tri-Navi controls.

Top view of the Sony Nex7 and its Tri-Navi controls.

Right now there are four cameras – at least in my opinion – that are at the top of the EVIL heap, the Sony Nex-7 and the new Olympus with the ridiculous name … the O-M-D-E-M-5 … I added extra dashes because I can’t remember where Olympus puts them, but I think its called the OM-D E-M5 … brilliant … not really.  There’s also the Fuji Xpro1 and the Sony Nex5n which has an optional EVF that attaches to the top, or you can go super small and shoot in poop diaper mode.

The Sony Nex-7 is the most refined Nex camera to date, combining compact size, a ridiculous 24 megapixel APS-c sensor, the highest resolution EVF on the market, 1080p video, lots of buttons and dials in a slick black metal body that screams incredible engineering – especially when you put it next to Sony’s big A77 DSLR – because its essentially the same camera. Sony has clearly established itself as the leader in sensor technology with the Nex-7 and the 36mp sensor that’s in the Nikon d800, the big S may be swimming in red ink, but it still knows how to build a sensor.

The Olympus EM5 is a micro-four-thirds (m43) system camera that’s supposed to be some sort of retro design mimicking the shape of the classic Olympus OM camera from decades ago – just what every camera buyer wants in 2013, a camera that looks like something in the back of grandpa’s closet or worse … some retro-craze piece of junk like the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Fortunately, despite its silly name and heritage nobody really cares about, the EM5 has drool-worthy specs for my inner gear geek – 16 megapixels, the first ever 5-axis image stabilization, weather sealed, a huge OLED rear screen, fast auto focus (so says Olympus), 1080p video (though limited) and what appears to be huge gains in dynamic range and image quality – improvements that rival and in many cases surpass many current entry level DSLR’s.

Olympus EM5 with the optional grip

Olympus EM5 with the optional grip

Fuji jumped into the EVIL game with the Xpro1 and its innovative hybrid viewfinder – it combines an optical viewfinder with an EVF, giving you the best of both worlds.  Sort of… but I’ll get to that.  It also sports a 16 megapixel sensor, a rangefinder styled body that places all major controls at your fingertips, high quality lenses with manual aperture rings and some of the cleanest files at high ISO’s I’ve ever seen.  It rivals my Canon 5d3 up to 6400, which is about the highest I shoot unless its something like a concert – where the noise is acceptable because of the dark environment.  Oh yeah, it also has the best JPEG files around with those gorgeous Fuji colors.  If nothing else, Fuji knows color and the Xpro1 has it in spades.

Last but not least – in terms of IQ, not size – there’s the little camera that could, the Sony Nex 5n.  The little Nex has a big 16 megapixel sensor, a really handy touch screen LCD, 1080p video capability and some eye-popping IQ for such a small camera.  You could *almost* shoot professionally with a few of these, but people writing checks like to see big cameras, not a camera smaller than my phone.  Why two Nex cameras?  Well there a significant price difference between the recently discontinued Nex5n (dirt cheap) and the flagship Nex7 (not cheap at all) and they both do 1080/60p video.  I edit everything at 24 frames per second (24p) and video shot at 60 frames per second (60p) can be slowed down to create some fantastic looking slow-motion video.  And I loves me some slow-mo.  The differences between the 5n/7 are big to some and not so big to others.  I’ll highlight some of these in the next update.

All of these cameras offer big IQ in a small package, but how do they perform head to head? I’ll update over the next few weeks to show the results of my testing.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris

After technical issues, the blog is back!

Sorry about the blog disappearing, there were some hiccups.  I’m in the process of recovering all of my previous posts and I have lots of content going forward.

This little slice of the web is for me to share my photographic journey while searching for THE travel camera.  I’m a gear junkie, so the chance to endlessly tinker with cool new toys will be tough – ha, ha – but its a sacrifice I’m willing to make.  My wife and I plan to see and experience everything we can on all seven continents.  Yes that means Antarctica.  We want to share our experiences with family, friends and anyone else that happens to click on this blog.  I shoot photos and video, so they’re equally important.  I’m searching for a light camera that shoots both really well.

One of the many great shots captured with my little Canon G10.

One of the many great shots captured with my little Canon G10.

For me the days of lugging a giant camera and 15 pounds of lenses on a plane are over.  I used a Canon G10 when my wife and I traveled to South America and it was nice being able to capture what I wanted without being weighed down by a big camera bag.  My banner image of Macchu Picchu was taken with the lowly G10 as well.  I never want to be “photo tourist guy” again, you know – the guy with the big photo backpack, tripod and a giant zoom on a DSLR clogging up busy sidewalks or skinny paths through historical landmarks.  There was this guy in Vegas once, trying to shoot the Venetian on a small stretch of sidewalk when it was absolutely packed, and it just made me think there has to be a better way.  Never again.

The big camera will primarily be used for jobs, with the small cameras serving as backups.  Modern imaging sensors are capable of producing amazing results in a very small package.  I have my sights set on a few different systems including Fuji X, Sony Nex and the top micro 4/3rds cameras.  Check back or subscribe for updates as its a work in progress right now, but I’m shooting (get it, ha, ha … ok lame) for new content a few times a week.  If anyone has any gear or travel suggestions, please let me know.

chris